Lawsuit Challenges Arizona’s Overly Burdensome Dual Voter Registration System

Nov 7, 2017
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System has disenfranchised at least 26,000 eligible voters in Maricopa County alone

WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and private co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit challenging Arizona’s overly burdensome and confusing voter registration process that has disenfranchised 26,000 voters in Maricopa County alone. Maricopa is the largest county in Arizona.

The Arizona law requires eligible voters to attach specific documents such as a birth certificate to registration forms if they want to vote in state elections. However, federal law requires Arizona to accept federal registration forms, which permit an applicant to swear, under penalty of perjury, to their citizenship, at least for federal elections.

As a result of this dual voter registration system, Arizona voters submit valid registration forms assuming they are registered for both state and federal elections, but whether they can vote in those elections hinges on the form they were provided. In sum, eligible voters are denied the right to vote simply because of the registration form they happen to fill out.

“Arizona should be focusing on making voting accessible to all citizens, not complicating their registration requirements,” said Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “Arizona’s policies place unnecessary and irrational burdens on the right to vote and fly in the face of the Constitution’s promise of equal protection. The right to vote is sacred in our democracy and should not be denied based on the happenstance of which registration form a voter completes.”

What’s more, Arizona rejects voters for lack of documentary proof of citizenship even though Arizonans have already provided that information to the state either at the DMV or another county recorder’s office.

“Our lawsuit seeks to ensure that eligible Arizonans will not be unfairly cut off from registering to vote and participating in federal elections because of arbitrary requirements that violate the Constitution,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our democracy is stronger when all citizens participate in the electoral process. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is committed to breaking down barriers and tackling voter suppression in all its forms, including Arizona’s onerous registration requirements that serve no purpose other than to disenfranchise eligible voters.”

CLC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are representing the League of United Latin American Citizens Arizona (LULAC-Arizona) and Arizona Students’ Association (ASA)—organizations that work to register voters and have seen how the state’s dual voter registration system severely limits the success of voter registration activity.

“The courts must rectify the injustice of Arizona’s burdensome registration process,” said David V. Hernandez, National Vice President of the Farwest at LULAC (which includes LULAC-Arizona). “The system puts a strain on registering Latino voters statewide, forcing us to divert limited volunteer and staff time to navigate the difficult system. This has placed serious limitations on our ability to carry out our mission.”

“This voter registration requirement has stifled political activity in the state by disenfranchising young voters and making voter registration drives practically impossible,” said Shayna Stevens, executive director of the Arizona Students’ Association, a student-led nonprofit organization that conducts outreach to promote student voting. “For lawmakers to hear the student voice, and for students to advocate for issues that impact their lives, they need to have easy access to voting. Making students fill out duplicate forms or dig up their original birth certificates and passports is making that process very difficult for no reason.”

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that Arizona could not impose its registration requirements on voters registering with the federal form. Rather than eliminating its burdensome requirements, in 2014, the Secretary of State implemented this “dual registration system.”

Goddard Law, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, and Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. are serving as private co-counsel in the case.

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Read CLC's case page for more information.

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